Arrow-right Camera


Getting to the bottom of toppings

How do ketchup, mayo and mustard stack up?

When President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden stepped out recently for a couple of burgers, pundits and other observers had a lot to say about the topping each chose.

As you’ll recall, the president asked for mustard, preferably a Dijon style, while the vice president went for ketchup.

While the rest of the world teased out the political implications, I, of course, got to wondering which was the more nutritious pick. Must be the mustard, I figured.

But that question raised others: Is mustard much better than mayo? Does pickle relish – or, to revive an old controversy, ketchup – count as a vegetable?

Now that the cookout season is upon us, this is information we can all use. So here’s the scoop on the sauces, plus some thoughts on healthful alternatives.


What’s good: A tablespoon of Heinz ketchup has just 15 calories and no fat. Its main ingredient is tomato concentrate made from actual tomatoes, which contain Vitamin C, folate and potassium.

Processing tomatoes to create products such as ketchup actually concentrates the lycopene therein; studies have found a correlation between lycopene, an antioxidant, and a reduced incidence of cardiovascular disease, some cancers and macular degeneration.

What’s bad: Though it doesn’t taste all that salty, ketchup has lots of sodium: That single tablespoon delivers 190 milligrams, about 8 percent of the recommended daily limit (between 1,500 and 2,300 milligrams) for most people.

Yes, Heinz contains high-fructose corn syrup, or HFCS, as do many processed foods. But the latest research suggests that the syrup, though icky in its ubiquity, is no worse for us than regular sugar.

Want an alternative? Salsa, which recently bypassed ketchup as the nation’s top-selling condiment, can be a more healthful choice, particularly if you buy a refrigerated version rather than one sold in room-temperature jars; the latter are more likely to contain added sweeteners and sodium.

If you don’t mind swapping ketchup’s smooth mouth feel for salsa’s more crisp texture, you can get a few extra nutritious vegetables – such as sweet and hot peppers and onions – in addition to tomatoes, for fewer calories (about five per tablespoon).


What’s good: Mayonnaise is made mostly of eggs and oil; eggs are a good source of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid that appears to promote cardiovascular health. Look for mayo made with olive or canola oil, both of which are also good for your heart.

Don’t worry much about the cholesterol: Even full-fat mayo has just five milligrams per tablespoon, and the Hellman’s variety made with canola oil has no cholesterol.

Canola-based mayo also provides six grams of calcium and 6 percent of the government-established daily value of Vitamin E per tablespoon plus 25 percent of the daily value for alpha-linolenic acid.

What’s bad: Full-fat mayonnaise has about 90 calories per tablespoon and 10 grams of fat; the same amount of a reduced-fat variety has 35 calories and 3.5 grams of fat. And watch out for the sodium: 130 milligrams per tablespoon.

Want an alternative? If it’s smooth creaminess you’re after, why not mash up a ripe avocado and spread it on your burger bun? Avocado, like mayonnaise, is pretty much pure fat (about five grams per tablespoon) – but most of it is oleic acid, the kind that’s good for your cardiovascular system. You’ll also be getting potassium, which helps regulate blood pressure, and heart-healthy folate, all for about 55 calories per tablespoon.


What’s good: Dijon (such as Grey Poupon) and plain yellow (such as French’s) mustards both contain mustard seed, which is full of selenium, a nutrient thought to protect against some cancers, and omega-3 fatty acids.

The little seeds are also surprisingly good sources of iron, calcium, zinc, manganese, magnesium, protein, niacin and even fiber. Plain yellow mustard also features turmeric, a spice common to Indian cooking that has recently received attention in the West for its anti-inflammatory properties.

Neither has any fat, and both kinds are low in calories: Dijon has about the same as ketchup, 15 per tablespoon, and yellow mustard boasts zero per serving.

What’s bad: Dijon has lots of sodium: 360 milligrams per tablespoon. Yellow has 165 milligrams.

Want an alternative? Since mustard is already so healthful, why bother?

Pickle relish

What’s good: Despite being sweetened with HFCS, pickle relish is low in calories: just 10 per tablespoon. It’s also lower in sodium than you might expect, with just 85 milligrams in that tablespoon.

What’s bad: The artificial color can make it look kind of creepy, but the only concern – and it’s a minor one – in that bottle of Claussen’s is the sodium benzoate, to which some people have allergic reactions.

Want an alternative? Try sauerkraut. This pungent pickled cabbage provides a bit of fiber and a little bit of Vitamin C for just 2.5 calories per tablespoon; its sodium content, at 90 milligrams per tablespoon, is comparable to relish.

Tags: food, health

Click here to comment on this story »